Weighing in on John Lewis “girls and boys” clothing range

One story that’s hit the news in the past few days is that John Lewis, a British retailer, has produced a line of gender-neutral clothes for children. I don’t shop at John Lewis myself, but full respect for the move: It’s a great reaction to the growing concerns that childrens’ fashions are still rooted in anachronistic stereotypes.

The reaction in both the press and on social media has been quite off-balance. With few exceptions, the reports I’ve read have a very noticeable lean towards the negative: The Mirror and the Huffington Post are the only reports I’ve seen with any kind of balance or neutrality.

Yes, there’s been a lot of “outrage”, “backlash” and calls for a “boycott”, but it looks to me like a complete over-reaction:

  1. There was no indication of a “median” reaction so it’s unclear what proportion of people reacted positively or neutrally.
  2. With some comments, it was doubtful they’d even read (or understood) the whole story, given how many believed this was a plot to put dresses on boys. All John Lewis did was remove the gendered stereotypes and produce a range of clothes that could be worn by both boys and girls. If there was no demand from parents, there would be no supply.
  3. There were some comments stating that this would cause mental health problems in the future. These are only predictions, not facts, and they didn’t come from people with a background in mental health or child psychology. The demand for childrens’ clothing without stereotypes is relatively new, so without any case studies, the future effects cannot be predicted with any kind of accuracy.
  4. Some of the comments published came from middle-aged people who are less likely to be buying clothes for children, but more likely to hold conservative views on gender.

I’ve also noticed some of the logical fallacies at play – I’ve loved learning about these. The examples are not real quotes, but they are based on common comments and tweets:

  • Appeal to Tradition: “we’ve had gendered clothing for years and it’s never done us any harm”. While that may be true, it does not imply that non-gendered clothing must be harmful.
  • Red Herring: “But there are children starving and North Korea might be trying to nuke us”. A distraction away from the topic of discussion into something less relevant.
  • Appeal to Common Sense: “It’s common sense that boys and girls are different, therefore they need different clothes”. Yes, they are different, but that doesn’t mean they’re polar opposites.
  • Appeal to Popularity: “The majority of people won’t buy this, so why bother?”. The majority of people live on land, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a profit selling house-boats.
  • Appeal to Fear: “If you put your son in these clothes, they’ll get bullied and picked on”. It’s also possible that they won’t.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears to me that all of this negative reaction is down to that last one: fear. More specifically, fear of change; I’ve seen this recurring in whatever social subject I research.

Change is inevitable: with every generation comes new technologies, new possibilities, new outlooks. Our children are both the workers and the customers of the future, so businesses look to them to keep pace with the competition and ensure their survival; that’s exactly what John Lewis has always done. The only way to stop change altogether is to stop everyone from having children!

This is not about giving into political correctness either because your freedom of choice remains unaffected. Billions of people worldwide have Facebook accounts, but nobody is forcing you to sign up for one; likewise, you still have a choice what you clothe your children in – nobody is saying you must buy only unisex clothing. If they retracted the line following the “outrage”, minimalising the offence caused to conservatives, that would be giving in to political correctness.

There are those who say you get more conservative and right-wing as you get older, but I can’t see that happening to me. I refuse to be one of those frightened old men, clinging on to nostalgia. Life experience gets you so far, but it doesn’t imply greater wisdom or superiority over younger people, nor does it provide an excuse to stop learning.

Children live in the now, and I think that should continue throughout your life. You can learn from the past, but you can’t live in it; you also can’t predict the future, but you can influence it.

Longing for the past or fearing the future only makes you miserable in the present.

Trying to see the real me

One of the reasons why I’ve been posting more gender-related posts over the past week is because I’ve been trying to figure out more about myself, and it’s been at the forefront of my brain a bit too much.

As I was growing up, from adolescence through to my early 20’s, I’ve been mocked or criticised for what others perceived as wrong, abnormal or unacceptable. I had no interest in sports, so was often criticised for poor-performance when school P.E. lessons forced me into playing football and rugby. The P.E. teacher even pulled me aside once and told me I must “put more effort in”.

A word often thrown at me during those years was sad. Not sad as in unhappy, but sad as in socially-inadequate or undesirable. This was 1995/96 – in the era of Oasis and Spice Girls, I was digging 70’s Prog Rock. I couldn’t help it: I just preferred music with a lot more substance so, to me, Oasis sounded boorish and lazy while the Spice Girls were mere plastic, mass-market pop. I liked Oasis a bit more around the Heathen Chemistry era (2002), but by then it was too late.

I was also not one for “going out”. I’d go to the cinema with a couple of friends, or to a concert, but that was about my limit. I certainly wasn’t going out every weekend to the places “people my age” went to – it just didn’t appeal to me, but I was made to feel like I was abnormal for thinking so. I was even told that “I wouldn’t meet anybody” if I didn’t go out. When I got home after meeting my now-wife for the very first time, my mom asked me how we’d met; I lied to avoid the “sad” stigma she applied to dating agencies.

I’ve also had two serious bouts of depression and anxiety within the past ten years:

The first time, the expectations of others was pulling me in opposite directions. My son had only just been born, and my wife was suffering with post-natal depression – while she was trying to cope with all that, I was thirty miles away at work, trying to leave my home life at the door, as was expected of me, and pushing myself to succeed. The extra money was very-much needed with an extra mouth to feed, but to get promoted required me to overcome my introversion and become more visible – as if introversion was something that could be cured or grown out of. The pressure got too much, and I just snapped.

The second time was similar too – significant pressure from work, and a home life that left little opportunity for “me time”. I felt like I was merely existing, and failing in my duties as a husband and employee. I was also having trouble sleeping with so much whooshing around my head every night. I was off work for several weeks, taking professional counselling with a more specific focus on self-esteem. It’s not easy undoing 30+ years of criticism, mocking, social-programming and bullying, but I’m trying to keep what I learned in mind.

That brings me to today. I’ve made significant progress in regards to my self-esteem and self-confidence over the past year, but I still feel as if I’m holding myself back.

One theory I have is that it has something to do with “identity”: I don’t want to take the easy route and conduct myself according to pre-packaged, or stereotypical, identities. I want to build my own, free from the confines of arbitrary characteristics such as my race, nationality, age and sex – I didn’t choose to be born in the late 70’s as a white, British male, and I don’t want to behave like one. When I walk out of the door, I want the world to see me in the analogue way my wife does, not the digital approximation that marketers or the media would say I am.

I’m also quite concerned about the obstacles I’ll face. While I’m trying to break my programming and ditch the inauthentic parts that came from social conditioning, I recognise that there are many who rely on, or are even protective of, these unwritten social norms. They’re like a comfort blanket that keeps the world clean and organised. I’d like to be very open about myself and who I am, but I get the impression that, if I do, I risk being seen as a threat rather than an individual: a threat to society, a threat to my family and even a threat to my children. I’m aware that such people will not be in a majority, and that there will be others who believe the complete opposite, but the fear of confrontation and the risk of damaging existing relationships is still very real.

A big part of me wants to say “bollocks to all that – just do it!”… but am I ready for the big reveal?

I’m Going Spock on you all!

I’m going to conclude this arc of gender/sexuality-related posts by returning to one quote from the Catholocism Pure post that I referenced earlier this week:

We are dooming children like this to a life of hell on earth and, then, to one in eternity as well for their supreme revolt against God and nature

Earlier today, I learned about what’s called the Appeal to Nature fallacy. To put it in very abstract terms, it’s centred on the belief that only what is natural (occurring within nature) is good. To frame it within C.P.’s context, only what is natural is Godly, and only what is Godly will be spared from an eternity in hell. Therefore, being anything other than cisgender is bad for you.

Very bad!

What they don’t realise is that, logically, this probably negates their claim rather than enforces it.

They claim that choosing a gender that does not match your sex goes against nature, but that is only true if sex and gender are one and the same. On the contrary, we already know that gender is an indication of where you view and express yourself on a socially-constructed spectrum, based upon expected behaviours and characteristics. If gender is a social construct, it cannot be good; this renders all genders as ungodly – including the two that they claim are good.

Why this is called a “fallacy” is because the logic either doesn’t apply consistently, or requires more criteria in order to be evaluated. For example, Pokeberries are natural, but you eat them at your own peril. Eating one won’t damn you for all eternity, but you’ll probably spend a night hooked up to a stomach pump. Birds, on the other hand, are immune to their toxins; therefore, pokeberries are indeed natural, but whether they’re good or not depends on who’s going to eat them.

They also state the following:

We are told to consider all these identities as normal as we approach the new godless, genderless frontier of the future.

Feminists like Gloria Steinem are featured, announcing that “the most pressing gender issue of today is getting rid of the idea of gender.”

Logically, if natural equals godly, and we’ve already established that gender is a man-made concept, then only the absence of gender can be godly. Therefore, Gloria Steinem is correct. If you really want to take it to the next level, you could argue that a belief in God must be unnatural since no other species exhibit any form of religious belief and, in the wider view of human existence, religions are a relatively new invention. Unless, of course, you’re a Creationist.

While it’s framed as an Appeal to Nature, it actually looks like they’re mixing an Appeal to Tradition with an Appeal to Authority: it’s basically saying that because we’ve always equated sex with gender, and that was true during Biblical times, there’s no point in changing what’s already established. This appeal to tradition is of no use on its own since “that’s the way it’s always been” does not explicitly mean new ways should not be evaluated and judged on relative merits. The Appeal to Authority is blended in by equating the old ways with God’s way, and God’s way must be followed. As it’s not possible to debate the argument with God directly, God’s authority is invalid. Therefore, it becomes little more than a plea to maintain the status quo.

So, wherever you are on the gender spectrum (if you’re on it at all), don’t worry. Their claim that you’ll be spending eternity in hell is highly illogical.

So live long and prosper!

Facts vs. Truths

In the post I wrote yesterday, published earlier this morning, I countered the argument that feelings were less important than facts on the grounds that feelings are also facts, just on an intrapersonal scale. I recall an interview with British musician Steven Wilson published last week, prior to the release of his new album, in which he commented on the extremely-polarised opinions his new work would likely receive, and how we rarely frame those opinions as opinions. He had a point, and it got me thinking.

The way I see it, “facts” are defined as verifiable binaries, universally-perfect within its environment. As a programmer, I deal with such facts on a daily basis as computers can only “think” in binary. If I write a program to tell the computer that “a = 3″, and then ask it “does a = 3″, it will say “yes”. If I write a different program that tells it “a = 2.9295″, and then ask it the same question, it will say “no”. Whichever computer you run this program on, you will always get the same responses. Do the same with a sample of humans, and you’ll find a range of different responses: you won’t just get “yes” and “no”, you’ll likely also get answers such as “almost” and “not quite”. That’s because, as humans, we are not universally-perfect; we have a larger lexicon with which we can evaluate and respond, and emotions to guide us in doing so.

For example, ask a sample of humans “is a roughly equal to 3″, and you’ll find more yes and no answers depending on what we feel is an acceptable margin of error. Perfect precision is not in our nature.

These are what I define as “truths”: individually-derived binaries. Our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and opinions all fall under this banner. A truth cannot be verified since it exists only within its host, but neither facts nor truths are disputable. If I say “I feel hungry”, you cannot respond with “No you don’t” without looking like some kind of brain-washing totalitarian. The only way to disprove me would be to become me.

The issue is when truths are presented as facts, much with the “Catholocism Pure” blog I referred to yesterday. Facts may be more valuable than truths since they are not objective, but no truth can ever be more valuable than another. You may think that gender non-conformity is abominable, I think it’s inspirational. Is one view more virtuous or valuable than the other? No, and they never will be. The existence of intersex individuals makes it impossible to define male/female as a universally-perfect binary, so the statement that “you are either male or female” cannot be anything more than an independently-held truth. Same with the statement “you are what God made you” – my Christian friends would likely agree with that statement but, as an Agnostic Atheist, I disagree. If it was a fact, there would be no disagreement.

Truths are also transient. We replace our old truths with new truths every day as a result what we learn and what we experience. So instead of pretending our truths are superior to everybody else’s, let’s open a discussion instead and learn together.

That’s what comments sections are for!

Ideology, Feelings and a Catholic Blog

I saw a link on Facebook pointing to an article published by the American College of Pediatricians, entitled Gender Ideology Is Harming Children. The person who shared it on the group was seeking a discussion on its content; they had read it expecting the usual anti-trans diatribe, but found it more explicitly advising against gender-reassignment surgeries and treatments for young children. Fair enough – surgery and psychology are two separate disciplines.

Whilst looking a bit deeper into the subject, I came across this blog post that referenced the same article, seeing it as evidence of their anti-trans prejudices, corroborated by a professional medical body. I would have commented but, whenever I’ve written a counterpoint on a religiously-themed blog, it never gets past their censors – no matter how respecfully it was written. Some days, it’s good to have a blog of your own!

Except it was hard to tell just what their argument was, beyond mere stating examples and expressing astonishment at them.

In the first few paragraphs, they cite the case of Scottish mother Kerri McFayden who is allowing her child, assigned male at birth, to live as a girl. Besides claims that she is “promoting confused thinking”, what was it about McFayden’s case that they disagreed with and why? If the child’s happy, why does it even matter? Personally, if I’m confused by something, I do a bit of extra research or ask for help… from the seems of things, she’d already done both of those!

They then go on to repeat sections of a Time magazine article that promoted young people choosing their gender, remarking that they were choosing from “the 60+ options offered by Facebook” rather than remaining “as God made them”. Ironically, the ACP article they are using to back up their stance states that gender “is a sociological and psychological concept; not an objective biological one.” – in other words, you can’t choose the biological sex you were born with – nobody can – but choosing one’s gender is down to personal expression; no different to choosing which football team to support. If you feel a sociological and psychological connection to West Bromwich Albion, perhaps out of local pride and how you like wearing blue and white stripes, you’re not going to listen to anyone saying “Your thinking is confused! You’re either Chelsea or Arsenal!”

Further down the article, they state: “We are told to consider all these identities as normal as we approach the new godless, genderless frontier of the future. Everything depends on feelings not facts.” How’s about this then….. [drum roll]…

Feelings ARE facts!

Well, they are – they’re just facts that exist on an individually internal level. As I write this, I’m feeling moderately hungry. FACT! I’m also feeling slight discomfort in my back from having sat in my chair for the past hour. FACT! I also feel like knocking down an ice-cold lager with my dinner tonight. FACT! As these facts relate to me and me only, I can’t support them with peer-reviewed evidence, nor can you claim they’re incorrect. How is that different from a biological male who says “I feel I’m a woman”?

All becomes clear towards the end: “We are dooming children like this to a life of hell on earth and, then, to one in eternity as well for their supreme revolt against God and nature”. If they are expressing themselves in a way that is natural to them, what exactly are they revolting against? Also, back on the subject of facts, where exactly does it state – as a proven hard fact, complete with empirical evidence – they will be forced into eternal torment for doing so? You feel that they will – that’s a fact – but what are the chances? The so-called “hell on earth” that they’d face is not so much because of their choices, but because of those who see it as their duty to invalidate those choices. If, as the ACP article states, gender is a psychological and socialogical concept, then you can hardly claim a centures-old book from the Middle East has absolute authority over gender: our knowledge of human psychology has become far more advanced in the centuries since. Our understanding of gender is relatively new, and whenever there’s new learning, there will always be resistance from those who adhere to the old learning. But, as through history, the old learning fades into obscure footnotes.

Besides, if being genderless is so heinous… what gender is God exactly?

Are people “objects”?

Another day, another YouTube video, another scroll-down to the comments section and yet another question I’m left asking.

The video I was watching told the story of a young couple, both of whom are transgender – not that you’d know that unless you knew them personally or had watched the video.

I scrolled down to the comments section, and there were at least a couple of people asking:

“So what are they?”

Not who, but what! Did this make them gay, straight, pansexual…?

It got me to question why some people feel the need to label other people as if they were objects. I came to think of it this way:

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This is commonly known as a Vinyl Record. It is a disc made of polyvinyl chloride with an etched spiral groove from which analogue sound can be reproduced.

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This can also be described as a vinyl record as it has the same characteristics as the one above. The grooves look identical to the casual observer but there is a major difference between the two – one plays a recording of Scoundrel Days by a-ha, the other Legion by Mark Shreeve. We can verify this by listening to the original master copies of each recording and comparing them to the signal etched in the grooves.

They are objects. They also have labels telling you what they are, so you can easily tell at a glance whether you are about to listen to a-ha or Mark Shreeve. Vinyl records are static and not sentient – the a-ha record will always play the same music every time, as will the Mark Shreeve record. Vinyl records come in all shapes, sizes and colours but, as long as they are made of polyvinyl chloride and have an analogue signal etched into a spiral groove, they will always be Vinyl records.

These are humans. Unlike Vinyl records, they are sentient and not static in that their behaviour is not so accurately predictable. Talk to either of them about a subject, and talk to them about the same subject a month later, and you may find that their two answers differ. Their sentience gives them what’s called a personality, and this personality will be significantly different when compared to other humans.

They can be divided into sub-groups called male and female based on their respective biology, but in terms of personality, the distinction is not so clear. Ryan and Jasmine have biological differences, but there will be areas of their personalities that they share with the other.

But all that is a rather long-winded explanation.

Unlike Vinyl records, human beings are not produced to serve a single, predictable function. They are not cut to spec, nor are they mass-produced – no two humans are entirely identical, ergo they are not objects and cannot be labelled as such.

So, to answer the question of what they are, just so you can give them the appropriate label, there is only one answer:

Humans.

Gender Variance and Bullying: A Quick Response

Picture courtesy of Queens University in Kingston Ontario
Picture courtesy of Queens University, Kingston Ontario

I’m just going to write a very quick post here, again based on videos I’ve watched and comments I’ve read.

It appears some people believe that, if a child shows signs of gender variance, it is the parents responsibility to force their child into conformity. By allowing their child’s variance to continue, they are setting their child up to a life of social exclusion, bullying and maybe even physical assault. In doing so, they are failing to protect their child from potential danger.

If that’s the way you feel, I believe you have your priorities the wrong way round. That is tantamount to admitting that is is not acceptable to raise a gender-variant child, but it is acceptable to raise a sociopath with little-to-no empathy, who believes it is okay to police other people’s appearance and behaviour with physical and psychological abuse. If that’s what you teach your children, then you are setting them up on a path that may lead to criminal behaviour.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I am all in favour of gender-neutral bathrooms under certain conditions, but never mentioned what those conditions were. Well, they tie in with what I mentioned above. A lot of my opinions are echoed in this video:

There is a perfectly-rational reason why some women are concerned for their safety in such bathrooms, and so my main condition is something of a root-cause analysis: we stop teaching men and boys all this macho, patriarchal bullshit. You do not need to be highly-intelligent to know that it is wrong to assault women just because you are bigger and stronger than them. Being born a man does not give you this right!

 

“You *are* that crazy, they weren’t born that way”

I recently watched another TEDx video presented by Deborah Siegel on the subject of gendering children. In the video she explained how, as a parent of mixed-sex twins, she was trying to raise them without the typical gender expectations prevalent in the US. I’m not going to say much about the video itself but, just to re-iterate, I do believe in children being allowed to be children rather than segregated into boys and girls – especially at pre-school age. I don’t often talk about my own children on the internet, but at present, my nine year-old son is a lot like me: passive, honest, logical, technical and clued in on the digital world. He is, without doubt, an introverted boy just as I was at that age. My four year-old daughter, on the other hand, is a bit of a blank canvas. Ask her the question, and she will tell you that she is a girl, but a stereotypical girl she is not. While she loves Disney, Frozen and Baby Annabel, she also loves watching Fireman Sam and Horrid Henry, just as her older brother used to, and has developed quite the taste for toilet humour. We may joke about her being “un-ladylike”, but we can’t deny that it makes us both laugh, and she absolutely loves making us laugh. We just let them be who they want to be.

What I’m going to do is throw a bucket of cold water on some of the comments that appear below the video. Comments from people who are, I believe, not parents themselves.

“‘Gender, the idea that someone or something is masculine or feminine is a social construct which is a fancy word for made up.’ Of course that is true if only you ignore our history entirely!”

At the start of the video, Deborah very clearly said that she was a scientist. She defintely did not say that she was a historian. History allows us to learn about where we came from in order to influence where we go in the future, and the same is true here. Gender norms may have had value in decades past, but that doesn’t automatically mean they should continue to do so. The effects of a more gender-blind society is very much unwritten, and can only be determined by future history – personally, I can’t see how segregating children has any effect other than to emphasise we are in a very binary “us vs. them” society,

“There is a reason we have picked up on what boys tend to like and what girls tend to like because most of the time boys do act one way and most of the time girls do act the other, also most of the time sex=gender, but sometimes, when it doesn’t we like to equate this as proof that gender is just something that we made up when in reality we have only exaggerated it, gender has always been a real phenomenon and we can say that it’s all made up but then where do transgender people fit into this world?”

Okay, for a start, learn how to structure sentences and use punctuation. Secondly, we cannot ignore the effects our media has on children. Switch on any children’s TV channel and you will see a rather clear gender-line in advertising: Boys play with Hot Wheels and Monster Trucks, girls play with dolls and anything creative. The only real gender-neutral advertising I see is with things like Play-doh and board games. The only way to determine whether gender is a real phenomenon is to study children who have been left completely to their own devices without parental or media bias. Good luck in finding them.

As for where Transgender people fit into this world, we’re not so much in a different ball-park, but in a different sport altogether. I’d be as curious as anybody to understand how sociocultral gender norms influence one’s decision to change their gender, but until such a study is completed, individual liberty prevails.

“I feel so sorry for those poor children with that crazy mother. She’s gonna make him wear a dress until he loves it.”

If you’d have watched until the end of the video, you’d have learned that her approach was to avoid strictly gendering her children in order for them to independently understand their own preferences, not to gender them the opposite way against their will.

“What happened to parental guidance? Where do the parents come in to explain what is socially acceptable , and what behavior will cause them pain and exclusion?”

Ah – the coveted “social acceptance”. It is not my parental responsibility to teach my children to conform, just to appease those whose opinions do not matter. It is my parental responsibility to love and support them whatever.  If such behaviour causes them to be “excluded”, then they’ll form stronger social circles amongst those who will accept them. Simple as. As a teenager, I was very much the excluded, quiet and studious “nerd” type rather than the more coveted physical, competitive and athletic type. We all have our individual skills and personalities, and in the great wide world, they are ALL desirable. After all, where would the likes of Microsoft, Facebook and Google be without the “socially-unacceptable” nerds?

“Articulate, intelligent, and entertaining speaker, for sure. But what did I learn from this? Nothing. By the way, long before feminism (and I am not one), I disliked pink. My daughter wore blue, green, yellow, red. My daughter, on her own, played with Legos and dolls. She constructed tents and played in the woods. Moral direction and involved parents are more important than going on with gender babble.”

I’d say that you don’t actually understand what “feminism” is given that it’s the diametric opposite of “sexism”. If you learned nothing new from that video, that’s a good sign that you are indeed a feminist in its truest context. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.


As Bob Dylan said over 50 years ago: “The Times They Are a-Changing”, and while there will be many who happily and quietly accept that change, there will always be the few who vocally resist. At the end of the day, I want my children to be themselves, not who they believe they should be – I’ve been there, and conforming to “the norm” is not the golden ticket it’s made out to be. It’s taken me a great deal of hard work to de-program myself from all of that, and my mental health and self-esteem is actually better for having done so.

If you’re a parent, just ease off the pedal and don’t seek to influence what your children do or enjoy. It actually takes less effort and you’ll find they’ll love you more for allowing them certain freedoms.

If you’re not a parent, either keep your opinions to yourself or, if you must post your opinions on YouTube, be prepared to have your opinions challenged by those who are speaking from experience.

Before you can man up, you’ve got to calm down

rikki-tedxwarwick4I guess now I’ve opened my mind to something new, I find myself needing to write yet another gender-related post. Just like the last one, I’ve gone through several drafts and re-writes before actually settling on something. The last draft theorised about whether the gender binary was actually obsolete and unimportant, until I watched this TEDx talk by Rikki Arundel about how gender is important. Watching it reinforced some of the points I was making, but also showed me how I was writing from a personal perspective. I’m still learning about gender identities and gender politics, yet Rikki actually lives it. On my website, I’ve sounded out theories and adopted points of view based on what I knew at the time of writing, but I’m always willing to listen to and learn from other people’s experiences.

Although, on paper, our headlines would appear to be at odds with each other, I was actually approaching my post from a different angle so the two were complementary: gender is important emotionally, but it shouldn’t be important socially.

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Nobody calls me “chicken”

Coupled with a post I read on Paging Dr. Nerdlove about defining modern masculinity, the video highlighted just how little flexibility the male sex has in terms of their gender identity and expression and how aggressively it’s policed. Rikki demonstrated this by showing that, in terms of clothing, Women can buy their clothes from Burton’s (a UK Menswear store) and very few would even notice. If a man shopped next door at Dorothy Perkins, he’s putting himself at risk of hatred, humiliation and even violence for breaking the unwritten “rules” of masculinity. Male culture is beset with bullying and fear as a means of policing conformity; fear is also used to maintain the masculine trait of fearlessness – just think of the effects words like “wuss”, “chicken” and “pansy” have.

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Your wife’s going to kill you, but look on the bright side: at least Needles doesn’t think you’re a chicken.

We’re afraid of appearing afraid, so we overcompensate by ramping up the “bravery” (I use inverted commas as this so-called bravery likely involves reckless stupidity) and putting ourselves at far greater risk just to prove a point.These “brave” men are really just so insecure and fragile in their identity, they cannot stand up for themselves against even mild peer pressure.

 

When I opined about the unimportance of gender, I overlooked something important. When you’re locked into a culture where gender is so aggressively policed and you’re not strong enough to give it the finger, your gender expression is a means of survival. I can’t begin to understand what trans people have to go through just to feel comfortable with themselves, something cis people take for granted, but with the personal, social and political turmoil they’d have to face, I can understand why some would become so emotionally attached and protective of the gender identity they’ve worked so hard for.

But despite our emotional attachment to gender, the social attachment should be minuscule at most. This week, I have to do a compliance course for my new employer, and the handbook I was given in advance had a whole section on conduct and discrimination. It was likely the most thorough anti-discrimination policy I’ve ever read. To put it simply, if I openly discriminate against anyone on the grounds of race, colour, sex, age, nationality, religion, sexuality, gender identity or gender expression… I stand a very good chance of getting sacked. This is coming from a major, global organisation. It’s not a radical policy either – every organisation I’ve worked for, whether it be local, national or global, has had a pretty strict anti-discrimination policy. This is why I feel gender should not be important socially – at work, we are required to collaborate and cooperate with each other, so one’s gender is of less importance than one’s skills, abilities, personality and behaviour.

If that’s how we’re expected to behave inside work, what’s so different about behaving that way outside work? What’s so difficult about respecting one’s individuality, or just simply leaving them alone?

alpha-male-traits-failure

I feel Dr. Nerdlove is correct when they say that some men need to calm down, work on their insecurities and become stronger in a more constructive way though being less quick to anger. While I’m not exactly a prime example of manliness on the outside, I am probably stronger in myself than some of the more “alpha” males. I’m not frightened of or threatened by people who are different to me – at worst, I’m respectfully curious. I’m not concerned about other people’s opinions of me – an opinion is not a fact, and is more reflective of the person making it than it is of me. Most importantly, words are just words. Call me whatever you like – even seemingly insulting names like “lady boy” or “batty man” – just please excuse me if I completely ignore you.

That’s my brand of strength and bravery: brave enough to break the norm, and strong enough to handle the criticism that follows.

 

Gamergate and Genderfluid

Returning briefly to the topic of gender norms, I’ve been reading up on, and watching videos related to, non-binary gender identities. To put it in greatly simplified terms, while we’re all aware of masculine and feminine gender identities, there are a minority of people whose identity doesn’t fit neatly into those categories, so they sit either outside or across the gender binary. There are a vast array of different identities which, as far as I understand, depends on where you identify on the masculine-feminine spectrum, and how that identity moves within that spectrum.

I couldn’t help but notice that the people I watched or read about were predominantly young Americans. Why were there so few Europeans? Why did I find just one gender-fluid person in their forties? The answer, if you believe the critics of such identities, is because of Tumblr. I think it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Before I continue, I must say that while I don’t claim to be an expert on American culture, it is beamed into our homes on a daily basis so it does hold some influence over here; this is not just some random Brit sticking his oar in. Whatever happens within American culture has a habit of happening over here too. I believe that America is having a bit of an identity crisis – especially when there are some pockets of American culture that are so strongly ring-fenced along gender lines. Take the “Gamergate” controversy for example:

“Observers have generally described Gamergate as part of a long-running culture war against efforts to diversify the traditionally male video gaming community, particularly targeting outspoken women. They cite Gamergate supporters’ frequent harassment of female figures in the gaming industry and its overt hostility toward people involved in social criticism and analysis of video games.” — from Wikipedia

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that where a particular culture (gaming culture in this instance) is so rigorously defined and defended as a “masculine” pursuit that any women who wish to be a part of that culture might begin to exhibit more masculine traits, and may end up believing that their love for gaming comes from some kind of gender dissonance. It’s not as simple as just turning up and saying “Hi – I like playing video games”, even though it really should be. I kind of get the impression that the whole Gamergate controversy was fuelled by some irrational, alpha-male fear of being “beaten by a girl”. Emasculation and losing face rear their ugly heads once more.

From a British/European perspective, something like Gamergate is just baffling – they’re only video games, so why go to war over something whose sole purpose is to entertain? There are millions of Americans who no doubt feel the same way. Likewise, the many different gender identities are seldom understood and rarely uttered over here – not out of ignorance or intolerance, but because it’s not really an issue given that our cultural gender norms are neither as strict nor as aggressively policed. We still have our share of conservatives, but they’re mostly harmless and they’re not given quite so much media attention.

I can see the point made by some critics of these non-binary gender identities in that they merely stick a label onto an expression of one’s own personality, and their definition can be as ambiguous as the binary itself; I can also understand the confusion and the need to define a new identity when society hands you one that just doesn’t work for you. I do believe that such labels are unnecessary – but that is just my opinion. To me, it matters not what you are but who you are, and therefore the only label you really need is your name. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care about how people define their gender, it just means that they don’t have to explain or justify it to me – you had me at “hello”!

But, when all is said and done, all these young people are doing is trying to make sense of their complex identities in an equally-complex world – if having an lexicon of names and definitions helps that process, then far be it from me to complain. The easiest thing to do is just let them carry on working it all out amongst themselves.

And let them play video games if they want to.